Apr 23, 2024 - Energy & Environment

Europe is the world's fastest-warming continent, report says

Medics helping a person in Athens, Greece, in July 2023.

Medics helping a person in Athens, Greece, in July 2023. Photo: Milos Bicanski/Getty Images

Europe's temperatures are rising roughly twice as fast the global average because of human-caused climate change, making it the fastest-warming continent on the planet, according to a new joint report from two international climate monitoring organizations.

Why it matters: The organizations warned that the increased temperatures have made, and will continue to make, heat waves, wildfires, droughts, flooding and glacier ice loss worse across the continent.

Driving the news: 2023, which was the globe's warmest year on record, was one of Europe's hottest, too, per the report issued by The United Nations' World Meteorological Organization and the European Union's climate agency, The Copernicus Climate Change Service.

  • "Extreme heat stress" was present for a record number of days last year, meaning the "feels like" temperature was higher than 46°C (114.8°F), according to the report.
  • The average sea-surface temperature for the ocean across Europe was also the also warmest on record last year.

By the numbers: Parts of the continent experienced temperatures up to 2.6°C (4.68 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, while the Alps saw temperatures at 2.3°C (4.14°F) above average.

  • Based on averages from the last five years, temperatures in Europe are 2.3°C (4.14°F) above pre-industrial levels, which is twice as high as the global average of 1.3°C (2.34°F).

Threat level: "In 2023, Europe witnessed the largest wildfire ever recorded, one of the wettest years, severe marine heatwaves and widespread devastating flooding," Copernicus director Carlo Buontempo said in a statement.

  • Estimates on deaths in Europe from extreme heat in 2023 haven't yet been published. However, extreme heat has killed tens of thousands of people across the continent in recent years, according to some estimates.

Yes, but: While Europe may be the fastest-warming continent on Earth, the Arctic and parts of the Antarctic are likely warming faster.

Zoom out: The record global warmth seen in 2023 has carried into 2024.

  • Copernicus said earlier this year that March 2024 marked the globe's 10th month in a row that set its warmest respective month on record.
  • March also marked a full year in which global ocean surface temperatures have been at record highs.
  • Some climate scientists believe 2024 could surpass 2023 as the hottest year ever recorded.

The big picture: The report's findings came just weeks after Europe's highest human rights court held in a groundbreaking ruling that governments have a duty under human rights law to protect individuals from serious climate change impacts.

  • The ruling may affect climate policies in most of Europe, as most European governments are signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights.
  • However, it could also influence pending climate-related lawsuits in the U.S., too, Axios' Andrew Freedman reports.

Go deeper: Over 70% of world's workforce exposed to excessive heat each year, UN finds

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